Rare Books and Manuscripts Library

Highlighting our collections and the work that we do

Category: Medieval & Renaissance

Funding medieval and Renaissance acquisitions

Although the twenty-first century has been described as the beginning of the “digital age,” physical books and manuscripts are as important today—and will continue to be as important tomorrow—as they have been for the past two millennia. While digital surrogates can provide us with handy access to a book’s or manuscript’s text, they cannot always provide us with the historical, cultural, and material contexts of the physical object itself. If all we want to do is read Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia, for instance, Early English Books Online is a valuable resource. But if we want to learn more about the reception of Shadwell’s play, its place in the larger context of seventeenth-century English drama, or its bibliographical peculiarities, we must be able to turn to actual physical copies of the play itself. OSU’s copy of The Squire is particularly interesting because it is bound into a sammelband containing eleven other plays, all of which, it turns out, were collected and placed between a single set of covers by William Legge, the first Earl of Dartmouth (1672-1750). The physical setting of The Squire amidst this contemporary compilation of plays, the volume’s association with Legge, and the apparent thematic unity of the included works (each spotlights the political turmoil in England during the late 1680s) are all qualities that help us better understand Shadwell’s text and how it reflected and shaped the opinions and concerns of its contemporary readers.

This sammelband of dramatic works is only one of thousands of items held by OSU’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library (RBMS) that can help shed valuable light on the wider social, historical, literary, artistic, and cultural contexts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. RBMS strives to locate and acquire unique, rare, and special resources that can support the growing research and curricular interests of the CMRS’s faculty, students, and friends; but the pursuit of such materials is extremely difficult. The rare books and manuscripts market is finite, and as time passes unique resources become more scarce. Additionally, prices for original rare materials consistently rise year after year. Coupled with this steady inflation is the limited nature of the funds OSU and RBMS have available to support the purchase of rare and unique materials.

In an effort to offset the uncertainties inherent in annual funding levels and market prices, RBMS has established a number of funds dedicated toward the acquisition of materials supporting Medieval and Renaissance Studies at OSU. Each of these funds is committed toward helping build RBMS collections in particular areas, and the monies they supply help ensure the Library’s ability to acquire the truly special materials that will continue to be used by teachers, students, and researchers at OSU for years to come. Listed and described below are the seven current funds specifically tasked with supporting medieval and Renaissance purchases.

Denney Fund for Books in the Age of Shakespeare (#201680): Aids with the acquisition of materials related to the age of Shakespeare (broadly defined as approximately the mid-sixteenth through seventeenth centuries), including dramatic texts, religious treatises, philosophical or historical works, and more.

The Whole Book of Psalms. Collected into English Meeter by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins, and others. London: Imprinted for the Company of Stationers, 1639; in contemporary embroidered binding.



Donald Wing Endowment for English Imprints, 1640-1700 (#267645): Funds the purchase of materials recorded in Donald G. Wing’s Short-Title catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641-1700.

John Reynolds. The Triumphs of Gods Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murther… London: Printed by Sarah Griffin for William Lee, 1656.


Philip Keenan History of Astronomy Collection Endowment (#204183): Assists with purchases of items illustrating the wide and varied history of astronomy, from the Middle Ages through the Age of Enlightenment and beyond.

Prodromvs und Erster Vortrab oder, Kurtze und einfeltige Erklerung des Cometen oder Beschmäntzten Sterns, so sich im November des 1618, Jahres hat sehen lassen. Gedruckt zu Alten Stettin: In der Rhetischen Druckery, 1619.



Friends Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts Fund (#308498, fmdv): Supports the purchase of medieval and Renaissance manuscript materials of all stripes, including complete codices, individual leaves, diplomatics, and fragments produced across Europe between 500-1700 CE.

Caption: Detail from an early glossed 12th-century Bible, possibly from Germany or Switzerland.


Friends Incunabula Fund (fifteenth-century books) (#308498, fincu): Aids in the purchase of books produced during the earliest period of printing with movable type (ca. 1450-1501), including books printed across Europe in all languages and genres.

Caption: St. Augustine. De contritione cordis. Basel: Michael Furter, ca. 1489.


Friends Reformation/Counter-Reformation Fund (#308498, frefm): Supports the acquisition of materials related to all aspects of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Caption: Johann Cochlaeus. Septiceps Lutherus, ubique sibi, suis scriptis, contrarius, in Visitationem Saxonicam, per D.D. Ioannem Cocleum, ęditus. Leipzig: Valentinus Schumann, 1529.


Friends Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Acquisitions Fund (#308498, fcmr): This special fund is designated for the acquisition of any and all materials that could be used to support the teaching and research missions of the CMRS, including rare books and manuscripts, modern monographs and reference works, research databases, and more.

Each fund is open and accepting donations in any amount. Should you wish to contribute to any of these funds, please forward your check to:

Eric J. Johnson
Rare Books & Manuscripts Library
119B Thompson Library
1858 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210

Please make your checks out to “The Ohio State University” and be sure to clearly note which fund is to receive your donation by including the appropriate account number(s) and/or code(s) printed in bold after the title of each respective fund (e.g. “#308498, fmdv”). The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and The Ohio State University Libraries are committed to building our medieval and Renaissance teaching and research collections, and the funds listed above will help insulate us from the vagaries of an ever-shifting antiquarian market and will allow us to continue to meet the needs of our students, teachers, and researchers.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact us directly at:


Thanks for your support!

Tax time at OSU’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library

Unless you are an accountant, chances are you probably find taxes and all things pertaining to them to be mundane, depressing and completely uninteresting. However, the Rare Books and Manuscripts library has recently acquired a rather interesting tax record: a 14th century tax roll dated 4 January 1352 (658 years ago this past Monday).


The document is comprised of 53 lines written in brown ink on a roll of irregularly cut parchment measuring 417 mm x 142 mm (16.4 in x 5.6 in).  The roll existed alongside the codex in this period and was used primarily for records keeping. Rolls were easy to add to as pieces of parchment could conveniently be sewn together as the records grew. This particular roll is a single piece of parchment and when rolled there is a shelf mark that would have identified where it was stored in a library or record office.


The text block measures 364 mm x 133 mm (14.3in x 5.2 in) and is written in a Secretary hand.  Although a structured and formalized script like Gothic or any of the many other scriptural styles, Secretary is a more freehand or cursive style that allowed for faster writing. Secretary hand is seen mostly in legal documents such as this, as well as quitclaims, charters and other records of court and government business.


The roll was signed by a notary named Francesco who served Mastino II della Scala (1308-1351).

Roll Franciscus

Notaries in the Middle Ages acted as scribes and authenticators. They were often members of the clergy, however by the 14th century a secular class of notaries had emerged as the Church took a less active role in lay affairs as demand for secular legal services increased. The document also sports a lovely notary symbol before the first line measuring 22 mm x 16 mm (0.86 in x 0.63 in). Notary symbols acted in a way very similar to the stamps and seals that appear on notarized documents today. They were distinct to a particular notary and served as an authenticating feature. Often these symbols would be recorded by a guild when the notary joined.

roll notary symbol

Although this roll is dated to 4 January 1352, sources indicate that Mastino II died in 1351.  Mastino II della Scala was the lord of Verona and was a member of the Scaliger family. After amassing vast wealth and lands, a powerful league of surrounding states forced Mastino II to return nearly all the land he had acquired through conquest and purchase.

This tax roll adds diversity to OSU’s collection of manuscripts because it is neither a codex nor an individual leaf from one. It is only one piece of parchment and yet it is a complete and distinct document in its own right. It also serves as a unique example of 14th century Secretary script, a fact that makes this particular document a useful palaeographical teaching tool.

Isabelle Bateson-Brown, Library Associate